pepparkakor ginger snaps

In the article below, we’ll be answering the most frequently asked questions about one of the most famous Swedish cookies: Pepparkakor. 

What is Pepparkakor?

Pepparkakor cookies are thin and chewy, heavily spiced with powdered ginger and various other spices, most commonly cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg. 

They’re more commonly known as ginger snaps cookies. Pepparkakor is the Swedish name for the cookie, and it literally translates to “pepper cookies.” The name comes from the original Swedish ginger snaps recipe, which used to be much spicier than the modern Pepparkakor, with copious amounts of black pepper as crucial to the recipe as powdered ginger.

Modern Pepparkakor cookies rarely contain more than a pinch (and often not even that) of pepper, especially the commercially packaged ones. However, the recipe is not entirely out of use: the more traditional, spicy variety can be hunted down at small artisanal bakeries if you’re really determined. 

What Does Pepparkakor (Ginger Snaps) Taste Like?

Ginger snaps cookies often get compared to classic gingerbread men due to the recipes relying on similar ingredients. But the ratio among key components tends to differ between the most common recipes. This is why you may have somewhat of a rough idea of what ginger snaps taste like if you’ve had a regular gingerbread cookie, but you’d also be able to point out major differences once you finally get a taste.

One thing you’ll notice right away is that spices are much more prominent in Pepparkakor cookies. While in most classic gingerbread cookies, ginger and cinnamon are subtle and accentuate the overall sweet flavor profile, the spice takes up the most prominent role in ginger snaps. Ginger snaps are usually only moderately sweet, with a noticeable gingery bite (which can vary from mild to quite sharp, depending on the amount of powdered ginger used in the recipe).

The amount of spices makes for a cookie with a very robust flavor and aroma profile, one more intense than regular gingerbread.

Are Ginger Snaps Cookies the Same as Pepper Nuts?

Ginger snaps cookies are often confused with entirely different cookies called peppernuts. It’s because one of the lesser-known ginger snaps cookie names is ginger nuts. While the name is almost never used in relation to the cookie (at least most commercial producers prefer to brand their cookies either as ginger snaps or local name varieties like Pepparkakor, Piparkakut, Piparkukas, etc.), it’s still used occasionally. And when so, people less knowledgeable about the cookie lore tend to confuse it with the other cookie.

The confusion is made worse due to the similarities between the cookies. Peppernuts are also a heavily spiced cookie, with the recipe using a nigh-identical combination of spices. But that’s where the similarities end: the texture and flavor are pretty distinct and impossible to confuse with ginger snaps. 

Peppernuts are small, round, thick, and dense cookies with a distinctly spicy flavor because, unlike modern Pepparkakor, their recipe still calls for the liberal addition of black pepper. They’re a German specialty, but Denmark and the Netherlands are also pretty fond of these cookies.

Peppernuts are more commonly known by their local name, Pfeffernüsse. 

Is Pepparkakor a Gingerbread Cookie?

The jury is, apparently, still out. When the jury finally decides, we’ll let you know.

As it stands now, whether Pepparkakor should be considered a sub-type of gingerbread or whether it’s in a category of its own, despite the recipe utilizing similar ingredients and being flavored with similar spice combinations, is a topic of hot debate.

What makes it even more confusing is that in their native Sweden, they’re not classified as Ingefärakakor (ginger cookies), adding to the tally of arguments classifying Pepparkakor as their own thing. But here we must remind you that “pepper cake” (Pfefferkuchen) is another name for German lebkuchen as well, and nobody argues that lebkuchen isn’t a gingerbread cookie variety.

Gingerbread is widely considered to be the umbrella term that covers all baked goods flavored with the spice combination, where powdered ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg play prominent roles. Whether those baked goods are thin and crunchy or soft and chewy; whether they’re sweetened by sugar, honey, or molasses; whether they’re in the form of a large loaf or small cookies, it doesn’t matter. They’re all a type of gingerbread baked goods.

So, if it were up to us, we’d say that, yes, Pepparkakor is a type of gingerbread cookie. Though one that deserves to be more prominently known for its unique traits.

What Day of the Year is Pepparkakor Traditionally Made?

Pepparkakor is a popular winter holiday season treat in Sweden. Indeed, around 65% to 70% of annual sales for Nyaker ginger snaps, for example (the most famous ginger snaps cookies in Sweden, and, arguably, beyond its borders), are made in the month of December.

Interestingly, Christmas isn’t the first (or even the most important) winter holiday, Pepparkakor cookies are baked for. They initially rose to prominence as a treat baked for Santa Lucia Day (December 13th), one of the biggest holidays in Scandinavia. But as a treat kept well with little effort, the larger batches tended to last throughout the month without trouble and soon became associated with Christmas festivities as well. 

As Christmas became (arguably) bigger than Santa Lucia Day, the famous Swedish cookies slowly transformed into Christmas treats instead of Santa Lucia Day treats in the international mind. 

Nowadays, Pepparkakor is baked well before either Santa Lucia Day or Christmas Eve, with commercially packaged cookies available throughout the year on supermarket shelves and in most bakeries. And even at the bakeries where Pepparkakor is baked only for the winter holiday season, it tends to hit the shelves at the beginning of December. 

One exception is Pepparkakor baked at home. If a Swedish family opts to bake Pepparkakor at home, they’ll most likely do it a few days before December 13th. But while the tradition is still quite popular, the majority tends to opt for commercially packaged cookies. 

How Do You Eat Pepparkakor?

Pepparkakor is usually eaten plain, without any other foods being paired with it. The Pepparkakor cookies baked specifically to be eaten typically aren’t even decorated. They may be lightly dusted with sugar, but even that isn’t a ubiquitous addition.

If Pepparkakor cookies have been decorated with glaze, then you can assume they’re for decoration purposes and not for consumption (though they can be eaten without risk to your health, of course). 

In Sweden, it’s common to decorate windows with brightly colored Pepparkakor cookies for the Christmas season. The decorative cookies tend to be thicker and denser (sturdier) than regular ginger snaps and are liberally decorated with bright and colorful sugar glaze and candy. 

Pepparkakor cookies are a common Fika (coffee break) treat and are most often paired with a cup of black coffee. But it’s not like there are rigid rules about it: any type of hot beverage goes. All kinds of coffee drinks, teas, and even hot chocolate are easily paired with Pepparkakor as its robust flavor isn’t easy to overwhelm. Glögg (Swedish mulled wine) is another popular choice, especially during the evenings, but not as common a pairing as coffee.

Are Pepparkakor Cookies Good for Health?

A high amount of powdered ginger and other spices with specific beneficial characteristics being used in the Pepparkakor cookie recipe has sometimes led to the mistaken belief that they’re better for health (and even somewhat helpful for gut health) than your average cookie.

Don’t put more on the poor Pepparkakor than need be. They’re cookies. The high amount of sweeteners easily negates the potentially beneficial effect the spices could’ve had on your digestion.

Similar to other cookies, they’re perfectly safe for consumption in moderate amounts. That said, if they have any positive effect on your health, it will be on your mental health via boosting the serotonin levels and making you happy when you eat them. 

Is Gingerbread Swedish?

Nope! While there’s a longstanding tradition of making ginger-flavored sweet treats in Sweden, gingerbread isn’t originally from Sweden.

There’s some debate about where it originated. But the most popular theory claims that it was brought to Europe by an Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis, at the very end of the 10th century. Monk Gregory settled in France and taught the recipe to local Christians. From there on, the recipe spread first to Germany and then to the rest of Europe. You can read more about its supposed journey here. 

What is the Difference Between Lebkuchen and Pepparkakor?

The main difference between the two is the cookie texture. German lebkuchen cookies are traditionally thick and dense but soft and chewy. Swedish ginger snaps cookies are supposed to be thin and brittle, with a light texture that can vary between crunchy and slightly chewy.

Are Pepparkakor Cookies Vegan?

Traditional Pepparkakor recipe calls for butter in the dough, so they’re usually not vegan. That said, modern manufacturers are well aware of the rising demand for vegan cookie options and are determined to accommodate them. There are more than a few vegan ginger snaps on the market currently, with the recipes swapping butter for vegetable fats. For example, the famous Nyakers’ cookies have quite a few options.

Check the label for ingredients before purchasing to be on the safe side. But finding a vegan Pepparkakor cookie shouldn’t be very difficult if you want one.

How Long Do Pepparkakor Cookies Last?

Pepparkakor cookies are very sturdy cookies that have been on the list of long-lasting sweet treats even without modern technological advancements to improve their shelf life.

Freshly baked Pepparkakor cookies can easily last up to four full weeks if properly stored. Properly storing Pepparkakor doesn’t require a lot of effort. Simply keep it in an air-tight container at a cool and dry place. 

Exposure to oxygen won’t suddenly make cookies bad for consumption. What it’ll do is affect the texture and flavor qualities, causing the cookies to harden and take away the robustness of the flavor and the aroma. 

Exposure to moisture, humidity, and extreme temperatures will have a similar effect on the cookies. But as long as they’re kept dry, at room temperature, away from a direct heat source, they will fully maintain their flavor and texture qualities for the month. 

Commercially packaged Pepparkakor can last for months and months, as long as the packaging isn’t damaged (you can see the expiration - or, more likely, best-by since Pepparkakor cookies don’t really expire in the classic sense of the word - printed on the label). Once the packaging has been opened or damaged, you should treat it as you would fresh Pepparkakor: transfer it to an air-tight container and keep it away from elements. 

Can You Refrigerate Pepparkakor?

Yes, you can, and it’ll prolong their shelf life by a couple of weeks. It’ll likely not have the best effect on the texture quality of the cookies, though. Keeping them at room temperature is preferable if the texture is slightly chewy, as the cookies will harden further in the refrigerator.

But it’s not such a drastic change that you should consider refrigerated cookies ruined. 

You will enjoy the cookies better if you keep them at room temperature for a couple of hours before consumption. 

Can You Freeze Pepparkakor?

Yes, but the effects will be the same as with the refrigerator. The freezer will dry out the cookies. It’s not a problem with ginger snaps that are already dry and brittle, but it can cause the texture of chewier cookies to somewhat decline in quality.

Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and then keep the cookies at room temperature for a couple of hours to best preserve the texture. 

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